Fact Check: Avoiding Saggy Breasts Syndrome After Nursing

Avoiding Saggy Breast Syndrome After Nursing

This is another in a series of posts examining breastfeeding information found on Pinterest. 

Breast sagging (the technical term is “breast ptosis”) is a common lament when breastfeeding is completed. For some women this even can be a significant disincentive for breastfeeding. 

Sara at The Healthy Home Economist proposes the causes of breast sagging are not having a diet that “results in strong, healthy skin” and “rapid weaning at about 4-6 months”. Ultimately her position is that a diet low in saturated fats starves the skin of the fat it needs to stay strong and elastic. In addition, rapid early weaning results in the quick reduction in breast size and, like the sagging skin that results when an obese person has gastric bypass surgery and loses large amounts of weight too fast, leads to droopy breasts.

Let’s look at these statements about saggy breasts.

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Being in good health before getting pregnant is always a good plan. Gradual weaning is always a gentler choice for both baby and mom’s body. But the link between these specific health aspects and post-baby breast sag isn’t clear.

A 2010 study from the University of Kentucky concluded “History of breast-feeding, weight gain during pregnancy, and lack of participation in regular upper body exercise were not found to be significant risk factors for ptosis.”

While the study did not consider pre-pregnancy or prenatal diet nor age of weaning, it did show correlation between breast ptosis and “age, history of significant (>50 lbs) weight loss, higher body mass index, larger bra cup size, number of pregnancies, and smoking history were found to be significant risk factors for breast ptosis.”

A 2012 study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal looked at breast appearance and aging by studying 161 pairs of twins with an average age of 47. With the given that twins’ breasts start from the same genetic make up, variations on appearance would consequently reflect lifestyle and environmental effects. Researchers evaluated questionnaire responses about the women’s lifestyle and life events, comparing these to photographs of the women’s breasts. Breast appearance ratings by independent medical residents were based on skin tone, droopiness, shape and areola size.

Conclusions: Daily moisturizing, breastfeeding and hormone replacement therapy after menopause all correlated with better appearance. Higher body mass index, larger bra sizes, alcohol use, smoking and multiple pregnancies were greater where breast appearance was rated worse.

So why does it feel like my baby sucked everything out of me?

A woman’s body builds all the milk-making tissue to prepare for breastfeeding during pregnancy. If she decides not to breastfeed, she is basically weaning immediately. Thus pregnancy is the significant factor in breast sagging in this discussion (certainly age, body mass, cup size etc. are factors over a lifetime.)

Perception of breast sag is probably more keenly felt for breastfeeding moms because they go through so many fill/store/feed cycles during the weeks, months, or years they provide milk for their babies. The larger, fuller feel of their breasts is a blessing (for those chronically under-endowed) or a curse (for those with a larger starting point). That fullness does gradually diminish even while the baby is still nursing: moms often begin to feel like their nursing bras don’t fit very well after about 5 or 6 months of nursing. It doesn’t mean she isn’t making milk…she’s probably making as much or more as she ever did. Her body is just getting more efficient in making milk just as the baby needs it. (Of course those bras are probably worn out too, but that’s another topic.)

The bottom line: pregnancy is the trigger for changes in the breast that lead to breast sag. The number of pregnancies you have and your genetic predisposition (look at your mom and grandmother) are better predictors of breast sag than diet or weaning. 

We want to know what you think!